Portraits perform a noble work, that more than any other is necessary for our human needs, that through them we in a true sense do not die.
– Constantijn Huygens Dutch humanist, diplomat and poet of the Dutch Golden Age
The above is the quote that greets visitors to the Project Heroes website, and perhaps it best captures the motivation behind the project. Project Heroes is an effort to paint and exhibit portraits and personal mementos of soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan. In a sense, these artists seek to give these heroes their share of immortality.
The project was initiated several years ago when artist Susan Abma felt compelled to paint the portraits of soldiers who died in Afghanistan. Part of what struck her about these soldiers was the fact that many of them were young men, close to the age of her own children. As Susan relates the artists are “using [the soldiers’] family photos to create portraits that show the character of each soldier – the person behind the uniform. We want to capture the smirk, the grin, the glint in the eye, the dimple, etc. that made each soldier unique, and we want to share that with Canadians.”
Ultimately the project has a long-term goal.
“We hope that for generations to come, these soldiers will be more than names on a cenotaph – they will be remembered as real people – brothers and wives, fathers and sisters. Canadians will be able to look into their eyes and see the souls of the people who bravely stood so strong for Canada.”
As the list of casualties grew, Susan soon realized she would not be able to complete the project on her own. She soon enlisted fellow artists Shairl Honey, and Cindy Revell to join in the effort to commemorate the fallen.
In addition to individual portraits each artist will do a larger work that celebrates the lives of the soldiers. Exhibitions will also include personal memorabilia such as pictures, video clips, or letters home from fallen soldiers’ families who wish to participate in the project.
If you’re in the Edmonton area you can see some of the completed portraits at Edmonton Northlands in the Western Art Gallery from Nov. 10 until the 14th (during the Canadian Finals Rodeo). It will be an opportunity for people to view some of the completed works, and watch the artists work, as they will be painting on site.
At present Project Heroes is awaiting charity status, but is actively seeking both individual and corporate sponsorship to move this historic commemoration forward. Depending on level of sponsorship, some benefactors may receive mementos from the exhibitions. For more information on the project, or to donate or become a sponsor please visit their website at www.projectheroes.ca.
“We are so pleased to be able to use our talent for this special project that, although gargantuan, is one that we tackle with great pride. It is such an honor to meet the families of these soldiers, learn about them, and from that information, try to create portraits that do them justice,” said Abma.